Town Residents Up In Arms Over Soaring Utility Bills

BERLIN – Irate Berliners had a chance to vent their views over high electric rates at a meeting called by a local citizen last night.

The meeting, held at Berlin Intermediate School after this paper went to press, promised to attract hundreds of people, organizer Lisa Hall said.

“The town is fed up,” Hall said earlier this week.

Yellow flyers advertising the citizens meeting were posted all over town, but many were removed in short order from private property. Others were taken down after being hung illegally.

When asked about the meeting at the Monday night Berlin Mayor and Council session, interim Mayor Gee Williams confirmed that the event was not a town-sponsored meeting.

“The town of Berlin has nothing to do with it,” Williams said. “I assume it’s a group of citizens upset about the electric rates…Citizens of this town have the right of free assembly.”

A member of the audience asked if the council would attend the meeting.

“I was told not to go to the meeting because they’re going to crucify the Mayor and Council,” Council member Ellen Lang remarked.

Williams said he would not attend the gathering.

“They don’t need our approval. We don’t have to be there,” said Williams. “I’m not interested in some sort of back and forth.”

If citizens want to meet over high electric rates, they have every right, said Williams.

“This is America,” he said.

Williams noted that the town is approaching an election, implying that the organization of the meeting is politically motivated.

“Let’s not be naïve. We’re in an election cycle,” Williams said.

The Berlin Mayor and Council voted Monday night to contract with a consultant to analyze the town’s electric power utility, particularly power costs and rates.

Hall scoffed at the decision in a later interview.

“I think that is a joke,” she said.

Hall said the problem creating the high rates is the lack of a power purchasing agreement, which means that the town is not buying cheaper power.

Berlin’s high power costs are a multiple year problem, Williams said at this week’s council meeting, and the current council cannot assume responsibility for an issue that has grown worse through multiple administrations.

The town carries a heavy debt load directly caused by purchasing generators.

“The investment they made in generators were questionable, being fair,” said Williams after the meeting.

Williams also thinks the advice the town got during the power deregulation process was not appropriate. 

“When your premises are wrong, it makes things very hard,” he said.

Nor does the town control the cost of oil, which has driven the cost of power very high.

“For years, the cost of purchasing power has steadily gone up as has the cost of generating power,” Williams said.

Berlin would generate more of its own power if it cost less. The power plant, which runs on diesel fuel, provides just 3 percent of the town’s power needs annually, as it is only run when the cost to create the power is cheaper than the cost to purchase power.

“We agree the bills are too high,” Williams said.

Hall said Thursday night’s meeting would not be the only chance for townsfolk to voice their dissatisfaction. She is planning a protest at the next Berlin Mayor and Council meeting.

“I’m going to fill the street,” Hall said.